“So what do you do all day?” An innocent, conversational question. But this time, I was speechless.
We had invited some friends for dinner, a cute newlywed couple. The husband we’d known for some time, and we enjoyed a great evening catching up together. We got to know the wife and learned all about their plans for the future. After discussing education, children, and careers, there was a pause in the dialogue. Then our friend proffered that zinger of a query.
“What? What do I do all day?” I spluttered on my words. “I…I…I do this!” I gestured to my four children. Didn’t he understand? I quipped that I just sat on the couch and ate ice cream all day. He didn’t get the joke.
How does one explain what a stay-at-home mom does all day?
How could I articulate the time it takes to receive sleepyhead children each morning, to snuggle them, to move past the pull of the bed and onto endless needs of the day? The call of laundry, baths, hair brushing, diapers, playdates, sibling fights, bonked heads, chores, everything?
How could I explain how long it takes to prepare and clean up meals and snacks? I live in an area of the world where access to prepared foods is very limited, so most everything is made from scratch, down to boiling a pumpkin, making our own molasses, or just chopping fresh vegetables every. single. day. But no matter the place or situation, the call of hunger is unceasing. And the vital task of teaching children how to help often only hinders the process, with eggs splattered on the rug or sugar glittering over every kitchen surface.
How could I specify how grueling yet gratifying homeschooling is? How to convey the sometimes-vain attempts to laugh through the pre-algebra lessons that my son knows but despises (and rants loudly about) anyway? Or the messes made when we all explore paint colors or extremely scientific experiments on non-Newtonian substances…like slime?
How could I tell about the bombshell of a moment when my husband texted me that our daughter had a serious skin infection and “the doctor says we’ll have to shave her head”? Luckily, we averted that and instead I spent hours of time weekly to administer treatments every morning and night.
How could I verbalize the sense of shocked amusement when my 2-year-old came to me, shamefaced, and said, “Momma, I sowwy, I peed on the dog.” (I’m still laughing–a small stuffed dog had the misfortune of being shoved down the diaper of this small boy.)
The little things add up to become the day.
And we don’t even need to get into the ways the job extends beyond “mom” into helping with our family business, church service, feeding stray young single adults, connections with friends and family, etc. Every mom is different, and not all are the stay-at-home kind, but every mom’s life deserves someone who supports her like my husband did today: after a potentially disastrous math lesson in which crisis was truly avoided only because I intentionally breathed and laughed a lot, he came out, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Moms should have a VIP ticket to heaven.”
I certainly didn’t want to complain to our friend or sound harassed or overworked. I also didn’t want to detail the mundane or make it seem like I was trying to sound busy, or worse, make his new wife feel bad for working outside the home. I totally respect her and any woman’s decision that’s best for their family, just like mine is for ours. So I just didn’t know WHAT to say!
This would be the point in the post where I say that despite all the struggles and tears and trials of mothering, it’s all worth it, and I sleep easy at night knowing I’m doing the Lord’s work. Sometimes that feels true. Other times–even though it’s still true–it doesn’t feel true; it just feels hard. I don’t sleep easy, whether it’s because of wakeful children, worry about the future, or just something I saw on the news. And someday I’ll be worrying about issues different from diapers and literally saving my babies’ physical lives every other minute. There will be dating and driving and heartache and doubt and other turmoil I don’t want to think about.
So why in the world do we do it?!
I believe for me it’s summed up in this one line from our leaders: “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, 1995). Our work as mothers has eternal consequences. And God has made promises that if I truly seek to nurture my children, He will send innumerable and specific blessings in both their lives and mine. And I trust God.
I would never judge another woman on her choices to work or stay home, nor would I endeavor to say that my choice is the only or best choice for everyone. But I’m ever so grateful that I have the blessing of mothering my crazy little family. I’m so glad I didn’t miss the stuffed dog episode. I feel truly satisfied that my son can trust me to work through hard things with him. I’m thankful for the hours I “had” to spend with my daughter, talking, brushing her hair, laughing, practicing our Swedish. Those little things with which I fill my minutes and hours and days add up to so much more than I ever thought possible. My day–my life–is filled up. Filled up with love and learning. Filled up with the work of eternity. Filled up with life.